Far From Us starts with a farmer herding a group of bulls through the forest; savour this moment. Drink it in. Appreciate the ancient skill handed through the generations. This is the most exciting the film gets, with the final product qualifying as one of the most tedious experiences ever committed to celluloid. While intriguing from an ethnographic point of view, Far From Us (Una hermana) seems completely disinterested in its own source material, ultimately resembling the opposite of cinema itself.
The story concerns Ramira (Marcia Majcher), a young mother who has come back home with her three-year-old boy. She is known as the “runaway” by the German family her mother married into, as she left the farm to work in a hotel in the city. These are poor people, with the older farmer admitting he may have to sell a piece of his land to pay for a relative’s quinceanera (15th birthday party). Ramira’s mother wants her to come back home for good, but she cannot stand being back — leading to yet another “grand” escape…
It’s fascinating to learn that there are ethnic German farmers in the depths of the Argentinean rainforest! How did they get there? What kind of relationship do they have with the Spanish speakers? Are they Volga Germans, or did they flee Germany post WWII? Is there any tension? There are so many interesting questions, but none of them are answered. The film uses this contrast as a backdrop to Ramira’s disdain for home, but sadly it isn’t explored in any dramatically rich detail. While intriguing from an ethnographic point of view — a cursory Google search of Germans in Argentina reveals that 3.5 million ethnic Germans live in the South American country — the impact on the plot is cursory at best.
My main problem with Far From Us is that everyone acts every single scene in the exact same way, which begs the question: why should we be interested in characters who are so uninteresting? Why does Ramira want to get away so badly if she is exactly the same with and without her poor family? There is no energy, no contrast, and definitely no catharsis. Even the grand dance scene is completely bereft of energy, with both Germans and Spanish alike moving like they’re in a zombie movie. Perhaps this is the point — to show how life for these poor people has become so hard that they can’t even celebrate a young girl’s birthday properly anymore — but it makes for very dull cinema. I tried not to blink, worried that I might fall asleep within an instant.
I’m not surprised to find that one of the filmmakers also worked on So Long Enthusiasm, which debuted at Berlinale two years ago. Both films share a complete disdain for engaging plot lines, empathetic characters or even scenes of particular note. While the cinematography — roving shots of farmers herding cattle and catching snakes — is accomplished, it would’ve been much better as a short documentary than a feature-length film, especially one that stretches the very boundaries of enjoyability.
The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.